Doctor Who is a series that has rarely shied away from borrowing tropes from other genres and itself or offering political allegories. But it’s rare in the close to the sixty-year history of the series that we’ve had an episode that was quite as heavy-handed and a crib of multiple episodes from its past than the latest installment “Orphan 55.”
In an episode that ends up being little more than an hour-long public service announcement, the entire point of the story comes down to a heavy-handed moralizing message about climate change, given by the Doctor as we go to ending credits. I don’t mind Doctor Who advocating for a viewpoint that I may or may not agree with, but what I do mind is that it doesn’t do it an entertaining way.
The Doctor and company transporter to a holiday planet, using Grant’s accumulated points to enjoy a full-service experience and get some rest. But it turns out the paradise resort is built on an orphan planet — one deemed unable to support life without assistance and one where the native residents have decided to break in. There are various characters we’re supposed to care about, but they’re all really there as cannon fodder for the heavy-handed moralizing that’s to come later in the episode.
I have no issue with a story that introduces a bunch of characters only to see them all killed off by the time the final credits roll. Heck, two of the best-regarded classic Doctor Who serials, “The Caves of Androzani” and “Pyramids of Mars” do just that. But what those stories have that “Orphan 55” doesn’t is those two allowed us to invest in the characters so that when they do all get killed off, we actually feel something. With “Orphan 55,” I had no investment in these characters beyond wishing they’d kill off the woman whining about her “Bennie” sooner if only to get her to shut up.
And if that were the only area the episode misfired, it might be OK. Instead, the episode ends up feeling far too much like it’s borrowing from classic Doctor Who tropes and not doing it well. The idea of Earth being moved or part of some disaster stems right out of the first four installments of “The Trial of a Time Lord” and that season’s implications about the Time Lords (and part of wants to hope that this might tie into this season’s arc concerning the Time Lords and the secrets they’re holding, but given that this is Chris Chibnall, I seriously doubt it).
There are even classic serials like “The Green Death” or “The Sunmakers” with a heavy-handed agenda — but at least those stories offered some entertainment value and didn’t feature the Doctor grandstanding to deliver a message that was a subtle as a two by four to the skull.
Simply put, this is one of the worst pieces of rubbish I’ve seen in the long history of Doctor Who. It also manages to completely flush any and all goodwill or hope I might have had coming out of “Spyfall” (which for this fan wasn’t much). I’m sure there are some who believe in radical climate change who ate this up with a spoon and will tell me that I’m a terrible person for not loving this and putting it in my top ten. (I was told last season I was immoral for not putting “Demons of Punjab” and “Rosa” in my top ten by an online fan who was deadly serious about that assertation).
I don’t mind if the show exposes beliefs in contradiction to mine. I’m a big kid and I can take it. What I do mind is an hour of television with such a blatant agenda that it completely disregards telling a decent story with good characters to hammer home that point in the final moments.
Sorry, but this is one I probably won’t be revisiting again any time soon and if they wanted to leave it off my Blu-Ray set, I might not mind. This makes “Love and Monsters” look like a masterpiece….